:: Undergraduate Courses
Fall 2013 Undergraduate Courses
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COL 160: Culture of Rebellion
Monday & Wednesday 10:00-11:20
Course number: 010270
Today – when the concept of “revolution” is used to promote everything from video game systems to presidential campaigns – it is hard to imagine a time when such rhetoric was uncommon. Yet this glorification of transformation, defiance, and subversion is largely a product of the French Revolution (1789-1799) and its aftermath. This course will examine the various ways in which artists and thinkers attempted to articulate this revolution’s spirit of revolt in the century that followed, focusing upon France, Britain, and the German-speaking world. Faced with the failure of the French political experiment, artists and writers in a variety of fields were forced to re-think the very meaning of “revolution”, “dissent” and “resistance,” expanding the scope of these terms to encompass not only new forms of political struggle, but also activities outside the realm of traditional politics, such as art and sexuality.
In the 19th century, the rhetoric of revolt developed in a wide variety of divergent and even mutually exclusive directions – from the Marquis de Sade’s libertinism to Karl Marx’s “ruthless criticism of all that exists”; from Mary Wollstonecraft’s proto-feminism to Arthur Rimbaud’s “derangement of all the senses”; and from the decrees of the Paris Commune to Friedrich Nietzsche’s “revaluation of all values”. Our examination of these issues will be guided by the following questions: Do we have an ethical duty to challenge established cultural values? What is the relationship between rebellion and tradition (particularly when various “traditions of rebellion” develop)? What connection (if any) do different forms of rebellion (e.g. political, personal, and artistic) have with one another? And what relevance do these texts have for us today, at a time when talk of “revolution” has become so commonplace as to be meaningless?
UGC 211 American Pluralism
In this course we will explore different philosophical, political, ethical and cultural meanings of “pluralism.” Not surprisingly, “pluralism” has produced plural interpretations and raised fundamental questions. What kind of human plurality and diversity is presupposed by this term? How should we understand the relationship between the “American” and “pluralism” in the title of this course? Does the adjective “American” limit the meaning of pluralism to national identity or, on the contrary, does pluralism imply multiple and changing ways of being American? Is there a tension between pluralism and democratic equality, and if so, is it an enabling or a disabling tension?
We will begin the seminar with the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, which articulates the founding ideal of the United States: “All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We will explore the contradiction between this revolutionary ideal of equality and freedom and the historical realities of political inequalities and exclusions. We will follow with the analysis of pluralism and political dissidence, at stake for example in the famous Thoreau’s essay on “Civil Disobedience.” We will read Hermann Melville’s short story, “Bartleby the Scrivener” as one of the most puzzling examples of such disobedience, an example that still keeps philosophers, not to mention literary critics and students, scratching their heads. Then we will inquire into the ethical meaning of pluralism in the context of our obligations to others. Moving into the 20th and 21st centuries, we will focus on the ideas of pluralism informing contemporary debates about multiculturalism, the politics of recognition, as well as the differences of race, gender, class, and ethnicity in contemporary American society. We will read a variety of texts from different of disciplines, watch great movies, such as 2005 Brokeback Mountain directed by Ang Leed, 2002 Skins directed by Chris Eyre, or 2008 Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Secret Life Of Bees. You will also discuss your own experiences of American pluralism in your lives, communities, and the places where you work and study.
Requirements: fresh ideas plus active and engaged participation in class discussions; weekly discussion questions and short written responses to the material analyzed in class, (one page typed due each Monday); midterm, exam, and the final research essay on one of the literary texts or films (6-7 pp. with at least 5 critical sources)
COL 301: Interpretation of Literature
Course number: 018388
Although everyone has at some point in his or her life read works of literature, philosophy, religion, and science, very few of us have stopped to think what characterizes them or considered the problems that come up when one tries to do it. This course is intended to explore some of the many problems that arise in the context of literature in particular. Here are a few pertinent questions: What is the nature of literature and how does it differ, if at all, from philosophy, art, religion, and science. Why is /Madame Bovary/ considered a literary work, but Descartes’s Meditations, Deuteronomy, and the texts students are using to learn chemistry at UB, are not? What is the difference between a work and a text? Is there a difference between Hamlet and the English text of that work? Indeed, when Hamlet is translated into Spanish is the result the same as Shakespeare’s work? Who is the author of a work of literature or of philosophy, and what is its role? Does a work exist in the mind, on paper, or elsewhere? Is the copy of Hamlet I own the same as Hamlet? How is meaning related to a work? And where is the meaning of a work to be found: in the mind of the author, in the mind of the audience, in the text, or somewhere else? What is the relation of an audience to a work or a text? A good section of the course will deal with the interpretation of literature. We will discuss questions such as: What is an interpretation? When is an interpretation legitimate and when is it not? Are there definitive interpretations? What is the role of an interpreter? Apart from discussions by various authors who have dealt with these issues, I propose to read 12 stories by Jorge Luis Borges and their interpretations, both philosophical and artistic. The class will meet three times in UB Anderson Gallery, where there will be an exhibition of 24 artistic interpretations of Borges’ stories by Argentinian and Cuban artists. This should keep the discussion related to concrete literary examples.
The course will meet once a week and three essay, in-class examinations will be required. In addition, students will be asked to write one short report on one of the several discussions and panels that will take place on Sept 21 and Oct 1, 2, 3, and 25 by several invited speakers, including 3 artists. A make up for one examination – missed or failed – will be allowed. Syllabi and readings will be posted on UB Learns early in August.
COL 345 Contemporary African Literature and Film
Tuesday & Thursday 11:00-12:20
Course number: 018873
This course explores some major contemporary writers and film directors in Africa, and will examine some of the historical, political, social and ideological forces that shape modern African cinema and literature. In the course of our readings and screenings, we shall attempt to position a selection of important novels in relation to three important phases of 20th-century African politics and history: the era of imperialism, colonialism and segregationist culture; the era of decolonization, struggles for independence and the formation of cultures of liberation; and thirdly, the present challenges of the post-colonial and, in some cases, neo-colonial era.
Among the writers we read are Ousmane Sembéne (Sénégal), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Mia Couto (Mozambique) , Nuruddin Farah (Somalia), Boubacar Diop (Sénégal), Zakes Mda (South Africa), Bessie Head (Botswana), Tierno Monénembo (Guinea), Ahmadou Kourouma (Ivory Coast), Chris Abani (Nigeria & USA) and Sony Labou Tansi (P.R. Congo). We will also screen several films from Sénégal, Mali, Chad, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa.
COL 301 Ancient Chinese Thought-Confucianism, Daoism, and Other Schools
Tuesday & Thursday 6:30-7:50 pm
This course offers an overall examination of the principal ancient Chinese philosophical schools, such as Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Mohism and so on, in the Spring and Autumn, and Warring States periods, the so-called axial age of Chinese civilization. These thinkers are greatly influential in Chinese history. We’ll read the texts carefully together with ancient and modern commentaries and secondary interpretations, and seek to understand the main points of each school and their bearings on contemporary philosophy and life. Through an in-depth study of these schools, the course will also help students to develop a better understanding of ancient China and the formation of Chinese thought.
Movies and videos related to the topic of this course (the list of movies will be provided later) offer you another approach to discover ancient China. Reflections on cultural contrasts between Chinese and European philosophy, ancient and contemporary, are strongly encouraged.
Courses from other departments that may be of interest:
Comparative Literature Degree Requirements (top)
The Undergraduate Minor (18 Credits)
The Undergraduate Major (45 credits; varies)
All Comparative Literature Majors are self-designed and must be approved by the College of Arts and Sciences Special Major Advisor, as well as by two faculty advisors from the COL Department. If you are interested in designing a Comparative Literature Special Major, please consult the COL Director of Undergraduate Studies.
The M.A. (30 credits)
The above information is provided as a guide. Requirements may vary. Please see the Department Director of Graduate Studies, the Director of Undergraduate Studies, or your advisor for information tailored to your situation.